Adding to The Bottom Line; Parting Shot, Oct. 2009

Many companies find ways to help non-profit organizations closest to home. On a broad level, banks identify with affordable housing efforts, discount outlets give back to schools, and sporting goods manufacturers and distributors have a well-earned reputation for contributions to team sponsorships or underprivileged youth programs. In our industry, it's usually the restaurant or foodservice operators that are identified as the philanthropists thanks to their support of hunger relief efforts. What about the foodservice equipment and supplies companies? What philanthropy have we made our own?

Some foodservice equipment and supplies companies support venture philanthropy, while others support cause-related marketing or corporate good to satisfy their desire to give back to the community. While these are all very noble local or regional efforts, as an industry, the foodservice equipment and supplies community is not tightly aligned with any specific type of philanthropy on a national level.

An Excell Group survey of 115 equipment and supplies dealers and manufacturers indicated that nearly three of every four companies were unaware of a collective effort in the industry to donate funds or supplies to non-profit organizations in need. What was encouraging, though, is that the dealer and manufacturing community does seem to understand the potential benefits associated with participating in a collective philanthropic effort that donates foodservice equipment and supplies to nonprofits in need.

The equipment and supplies community has achieved a lot through our individual efforts with hunger relief organizations such as Share Our Strength and Second Harvest. But the fact is that both of these efforts still remain closely identified with restaurants. When we as an industry act in a charitable manner, it is more on an interim basis rather than an ongoing one. The motorcycle rides that have preceded previous NAFEM Shows were wonderful events that get hundreds donate to food banks, but these efforts are periodic not constant.

Wouldn't it be great to build an ongoing treasure trove of philanthropic outlets? Cooking Up Better Lives, a philanthropic organization founded by the Excell Foundation, is one such effort that accepts nominations from the industry for renovating kitchens, replacing old items, donating new equipment, relieving line item purchases and more.

The equation for having a positive impact through philanthropy is simple: Charitable involvement = practicality + necessity + marketing. Cleared inventory is practical; donated equipment meets necessity; and the shared stories as a result of your efforts yields marketing.

The opportunities to participate are limitless, as countless organizations can benefit from the philanthropy the foodservice equipment and supplies industry can easily provide. Organizations such as camps for people with developmental disabilities, preschools, youth programs, schools for the deaf, health organizations, youth activity centers, campus housing and others often have needs go unfulfilled because they have nowhere to turn for support. In our two years of operating Cooking Up Better Lives, we have been able to support many organizations like these, and every little bit we have been able to do has gone a long way in helping them serve their communities.

Our intent here is to not preach or self-promote our efforts but to simply serve as a reminder and a call to action for all of us who are making a difference but can do more. Each of us should be looking for opportunities. Here's what you can do:

Utilize company websites to feature the story of your donations.

Maximize national conferences to share stories and philanthropic opportunities on panel presentations and keynote speeches.

Include social networking sites (e.g. Twitter, FaceBook) to feature videos, pictures and stories about the industry doing good.

Pursue local press in home towns who may cover your feel good story in local papers and TV/radio.

Better exposure, better networking, better community – that's the bottom line.